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Monday, 9 July, 2001, 14:24 GMT 15:24 UK
Ivanisevic learns to live with himself
By Nic Andrews
"When they opened the gates last Monday something was shining... something special happened. I don't know what it was but I wish it happened every week."
Goran Ivanisevic is not the only one who has struggled to explain just why his career has taken off again so spectacularly these past two weeks.
His phenomenal victory over Pat Rafter in the final means he is the first wild-card entry ever to win the Wimbledon title.
Whether claiming a first Grand Slam title after 13 years on the circuit turns out to be a last glorious hurrah or the start of a prolonged Indian summer remains to be seen.
But the very fact that the big-serving Croat even turned up at SW19 this year was enough of a surprise for many.
Just 11 months ago, Ivanisevic, 29, a veteran of three painful Wimbledon final failures, appeared to be a man on the brink of retirement.
"I don't have fun anymore," he said after his first-round exit from the US Open in August 2000.
"No fun to play, no fun to be here, no fun to practise.
"I cannot even break my racket, you know, make some show for the people."
He hung on in there through the autumn, but the slump just went from bad to worse as his ranking plummeted to its lowest level since 1988.
All the signs suggested it was now the time to go.
Ivanisevic did at least manage one more celebrated bout of racket-breaking, in the Samsung Open at Brighton last November.
But, when he was forced to retire from his second-round match against Korea's Hyung-Taik Lee because he had no more rackets left to smash, it seemed an apt metaphor for the state of his game.
It seemed the appropriate moment to head for the exit.
"We all felt a lot of sympathy for him as a good player struggling to find his form," Roger Taylor, Britain's Davis Cup captain, said of that seemingly interminable slump.
Of the subsequent recovery, Taylor added: "It is an amazing story and I don't know where it has come from."
But Ivanisevic has built his reputation by overturning the odds and defying conventional wisdom in what has been a sometimes glorious, always tempestuous career.
Three times before he has got to the brink of final victory, three times he has just fallen short.
His first was in 1992. After beating Pete Sampras in the semi-final, he faced Andre Agassi and lost after five gruelling sets.
Two years later, it was Sampras on the other side of the net - and the American won in straight sets.
And then in 1998 he faced Sampras again, losing to Pistol Pete in a match that swung one way then the other.
"I cannot describe it," Ivanisevic said at the time. "It was the worst moment of my life.
"I don't want to be a loser and say 'OK, now it's finished'. I just want to maybe try one more time."
To have got this fourth attempt, to have done it the hard way and become the first wild-card winner, is so typically Goran.
Grand Slam titles may so far have been conspicuous by their absence, but "making show" is something he has few equals at in the modern game.
And the tennis-watching public is very grateful.
The affection in which he is held by the Wimbledon crowd has been there for all to see this past fortnight, aided and abetted by the triumphal posturing and shirt-stripping that has accompanied his unlikely progress.
"He's enjoying himself so much more, he is more under control and he doesn't put so much pressure on himself," said Chris Bailey, the BBC pundit and former British star.
"Goran's been told he needs shoulder surgery and he has come into Wimbledon with the feeling that it may be his last and he's just seeing how far he can go.
"There are so many times when Goran plays great tennis one day and comes out the next playing totally differently - but I haven't seen that this year."
And that appears to be the key to the Ivanisevic character - or, rather, characters - and to his place in this final.
For the player himself is well aware of the schizophrenia that has been a part of his make-up and which has dogged his career.
He has been speaking in press conferences of "good Goran, bad Goran" and of the "emergency Goran".
This third persona is a final resource on which he has been able to call can this week, when his back has been hard against the wall and the prognosis seems hopeless.
Emergency Goran was never more prominent than in the match-defining moment in the semi-final against Tim Henman when, after slipping on the greasy surface, he played a winning passing shot from his knees.
It seemed to signal that the Croat would triumph over the home hero.
By keeping "bad Goran" under control, allowing "good Goran" to prevail and "emergency Goran" to come to his rescue, Ivanisevic got the show right back on the road.
It is as though he finally understands himself, and is happy to be who he is.
"All my life I am the guy that had something to play for," he said last year.
"When I started my career my sister was very sick. I wanted to play for her. Now she's fine.
"Then the war came in Croatia. I play for my country, I was very motivated.
"Then somehow everything stopped, nothing to play for anymore."
What about playing for himself?
"I don't like myself sometimes. I don't like to play for myself," he said.
Now at last he does.
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